This is a sad week. Not only have we lost the former legendary BBC foreign correspondent Tony Lawrence, who died shortly after his 101st birthday, but it’s farewell to another great Hong Kong character. Arthur Hacker, painter, illustrator, historian and creator of the anti-litterbug character Lap Sap Chung died yesterday morning in his sleep. Arthur spent the last year or so in a government home, where he received exceptional care from his diligent social workers and nurses. He died in hospital, having succumbed to pneumonia. Like many elderly expatriates of his generation, his dotage saw him with many friends, but no family in Hong Kong. An immensely private person, Arthur was a confirmed bachelor. If my memory serves me right, he turned 80 last year. His was along and creative life.
The Lap Sap Chung Era
Arthur arrived in Hong Kong in December 1967. He had studied at the Royal College of Art in England and Hong Kong fascinated him, its colourful characters feeding his pop art drawings in the early 1970s. He revelled in the seedy, seamy side of life that fed his creative muse.
His pen and ink drawings and other works can still be found in Wattis Fine Art, in Jonathan Wattis’ gallery upstairs at 20 Hollywood Road, Central. Arthur was multi talented, a writer and historian as well as a painter and illustrator. He was an avid collector of books, historic post cards and photos. He wrote and illustrated numerous books on his observations of the then British colony and afterwards. Hacker's Hong Kong was just one of many. He also designed many beautiful postage stamps.
Arthur’s inspiration was street life, from the bell-bottomed boys and scantily clad girls in Wan Chai to motley stray dogs, visiting sailors and pillar boxes. His drawing style was mostly curlicues. He depicted the swinging '70s, Hong Kong-style, having already seen the swinging '60s in Britain, he said. 'The thing about Hong Kong was that you got a mixture of the very rich and the very poor wandering around in streets next to each other,' he said.
But most Hong Kongers remember Arthur for something completely different. In 1972, his employer, the Information Services Department (ISD) set out to foster a sense of civic pride to clean up Hong Kong. Arthur designed an emblematic 'public enemy number one' of the new Keep Hong Kong Clean Campaign, in the form of Lap Sap Chung, the litterbug.
This was a vile green, long-snouted monster with red spots and a forked tail, Lap Sap Chung was supposed to be repulsive but ended up looking almost endearingly naughty instead. This despite the fact that an early poster for the campaign - and one which prompted great demand - shows him looming, Godzilla-like, above the city, about to trash the metropolis. His arrival coincided with TV coming to Hong Kong homes, so for every child of that generation he remains an instantly recognisable icon.
Commenting on Lap Sap Chung fever in Hong Kong in Posters, published by ISD many years later, Arthur said: "The litterbug, Lap Sap Chung, and Miss Super Clean were both launched at the same time and promoted equally. Miss Super Clean soon dropped out of the picture, but Lap Sap Chung became a folk villain."
To his many friends, Arthur was an irascible rogue, salty dog in hand, always spirited company and highly entertaining, his growly tones demonstrating a splendid command of the vernacular. He lived on a diet of bacon sandwiches, predominantly. He didn’t mince words, was entirely politically incorrect and was much loved for that. A regular at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central for decades, it’s hard to believe he will never return to his usual Friday night roost at the main bar, resplendent in a photographer’s jacket, battered hat nearby.
Four years ago, one September morning, I watched Arthur out of the FCC window plodding slowly up the hill, coming from the Discovery Bay ferry. He joined me for breakfast, but seemed subdued, not his normal rambunctious self. It was drizzling and the pavements slippery. He was wearing his usual sloppy old shoes, I remember warning him to tread carefully as he set off up the hill. A few minutes later he slipped and fell, going up some stairs, hitting his head. After a few months in hospital, he returned to his Discovery Bay flat and his beloved “collection”. He continued to live at home, aided by the efforts of an army of friends and cared for by Marianita, his devoted domestic helper. Eventually failing health made residential care unavoidable. His last months were spent in a local government elderly home, where he received excellent care, but one cannot imagine he intended to end his days this way. His twilight years should be a lesson for all expatriates. If you intend to end your days here, make good provision for your old age, in good time.
For now it’s farewell, Tony and Arthur. Two unique individuals who cast long shadows and gave far more than they took. It was a privilege to have known them both.